Hiking packing list for littles!
After 8 years of hiking with kids, we have some packing suggestions and tips for a great day out!
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Memory-making on family hikes!
We love hiking with our three kids! We have been trekking trails large and small since they were infants. Hiking with kids has created some of our best family memories.
Our family loves to be outside doing almost anything. We love biking, running, walking, sledding, swinging, and even hiking! Some of our favorite days have been getting lost with no phone reception along green and muddy paths across the country.
Along came 2020, and then we ended up hiking more than ever. Plus, my husband and I love to hike even with our 3 small children. In 2020 we hiked regularly with our 1, 3, and 5 year old! They had a blast and so can you with a little bit of preparation!
Now we hike with our children who are a little older, but our packing list hasn’t changed much!
Favorite Hiking Destinations with Kids
Our favorite spots to hike so far are definitely in Tennessee. East Tennessee holds so many special places for us as a couple and as a family.
Not only is East Tennessee accessible from the Midwest, the variety of trailheads, lakeside paths, and greenways mean that you can hike up the sides of mountains or meander along the sides of creeks for hours or days on end.
However, we also like the calm, attainable parks at Turkey Run and Brown County in Indiana.
Our favorite international hiking has been in Spain. We love hiking in Spainin the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Monachil.
How Far Can Kids Hike?
In my experience, I usually underestimate my children. Usually my children are far more capable than I give them credit for. So, when I plan a hike, I usually look for kid-friendly hikes, but the three kiddos have little trouble with long, skilled hikes.
For example, one day my husband, my littles, and I started up what turned out to be an eight mile path past creeks, cliffs, and all other reasonable parents on the trail!
4.5 miles up the side of a mountain my littles’ legs and my back (since I was carrying the 1 year old) finally said that we had to stop and go back down! Believe it or not, no one cried and no one was injured on the entire trip. Now, my children beam with pride talking about that specific hike!
Another time, we hiked 8 miles in Monachil, Spain through desert landscape up a mountain!
Don’t stress too much about the kids keeping up with you, they will usually shock you!
What do you actually need for a hike with kids? The truth is, not much. But before we get to the kid stuff, don’t forget the mom and dad stuff too!
Hiking gear for mom and dad
- A good infant/toddler carrier. We have a variety of carriers and for hiking a good Ergo Baby does just fine for me when hiking with infants. I do not recommend ring slings as they can cause you to walk off balanced after awhile. Though they are great for snuggles, not so great for hiking.
A friend of mine swears by the Minimeis while another has always taken his kids in a hiking backpack. We talked to some people over the summer who use a Piggyback Rider, and I think that will be one of our next investments. As our kids are getting bigger, we have been trying out new packs and carriers. If you are interested in our reviews and a Minimeis discount code, check my post here.
- Good shoes for mom and dad. Unless you are alright with muddying, ripping, and wearing out your good sneakers, I like to opt for a good pair of Keens or Chacos. I love the solid sole, the supportive ankles, and the sporty look.
- Bug spray, sunscreen, and chapstick. For some reason the bugs do not seem to bother my littles as much as they bother my husband. And, we all know, if daddy’s unhappy…we are all going home. Sunscreen and chapstick for mommy who tends to be a little more high maintenance!
- Adults only water bottle. No. I do not mean alcohol. I mean kids have a tendency to spit anything and everything into my water. This gives the distinct pleasure of drinking chunks if I get thirsty. Pack your own so you don’t have to think about how many raisin seeds have been regurgitated into your water.
- A full stomach. I don’t know about you, but it is often a chore to feed and corral 3 kids unless they are strapped in at the table. A snack or granola bar might be possible, but my husband and I prefer the “eat a giant breakfast before we leave” method. Our favorite breakfast in Gatlinburg is Crockett’s Breakfast Camp.
- A trail map. Yes, it is all well and good to look up the different trails at home or at your hotel the night before you go. However, the reality is that when you actually hit the trail, you may quickly lose cell phone reception. The lack of a map is the exact reason why we ended up on an 8 mile hike instead of the 3.5 mile hike we intended to be on! Take a map!
- A great backpack. I love these Fjall Raven backpacks that my kids have. They are easy to carry for the kids and even fit the adults. They have a padded back, a strap to keep them in place, and hold just enough for a day hike.
- A small reusable bag for your personal items like your phone, wallet, keys, and id. How many times did you slip into the water, dangle something off the side of the mountain, or watch the kids reach into the bag and pull out mystery items. The worst way to end a great day would be for everyone to arrive back at the car with no keys or drivers license.
Hiking gear for kids:
We spend so much time planning for our littles that we would not want the parents to be left out. But, here are some of the must haves that make our hikes fun, enjoyable, and successful:
- Good shoes. Shoes and kids. Kids just won’t stop growing, and they seem to do it all the time. So, while I always want to keep them in good shoes, having shoes that serve more than one purpose is essential to me.
For that reason, I love Keen shoes. They have a thick durable sole, sturdy upper, and never seem to wear out. I have been able to pass the same hand me down Keen shoes among all of my children and they still look new.
Bonus, the same shoes that are so sturdy for hiking with kids are also great for playing or wearing to school! Multiple uses for the same pair of shoes! I know that one of the reasons that we did not have tears on our trips is because they had comfortable shoes.
I also tried these Chacos for my oldest last year, and I really liked them for playing outside all summer.
- Clear expectations. Prepare yourself mentally and physically. You are not going to hike the Appalachian Trail with 3 kids, a baby carrier, and a bottle of water. Thus, make sure that you know that you are not breaking any records or charting any new territories. Be flexible, and be prepared to walk a little more slowly, to talk about different kinds of leaves, plants, and bugs along the way, and to let a lot of people pass you!
- Snacks and water. Water goes without saying, but I love making sure that each of my children have their own special Contigo or Camelbak water bottle. Snacks must be crush proof (no chips!), need no utensils, and edible in one sitting.
I always take simple granola bars, raisins, peanut butter crackers, meat sticks, or other single-serve snacks. Don’t worry about packing some elaborate picnic basket.
These items can be eaten while walking, directly from their container, and won’t go bad when out of the refrigerator or squished to the bottom of the bag.
Sunscreen and simple first aid. Despite being under tree cover most of the time, that precious sensitive skin needs to be protected. Although I always try to keep as much of my fair-skinned kiddos’ arms and legs covered, they always need a good covering of natural kids sunscreen.
I also always travel with a small first aid kit containing some adhesive bandages, triple antibiotic ointment, a small ice pack, inhaler (if you have an asthmatic child), and sting ointment.
- Baby wipes. Wipes are not just for those with a child in diapers. Think of all of the gross things that your children do everyday. Even the things that surprise you. I once caught my daughter eating moss that she dug from between the pavers leading up to my house. I mean…kids are gross. Stick a pack of wipes in your bag, and you will be glad you did!
Hit the trail!
That’s it. Don’t overthink it. You will no doubt come up with a few other items that you will need personally (i.e. keys, id, and a map), but don’t pack your entire kitchen to spend the day hiking. Carrying all that stuff will just make you more tired and won’t get used.
Inevitably, my kids spend the day splashing in puddles, sharing new information about themselves, and creating new memories, and they have never complained that I didn’t have a three course meal on the trail or even their special comfort item.
These are special days; soak them up.
I am sure that others have other opinions. What are your must-haves for hiking with kids?
Are you looking for some other ways to stay on a budget with kids? Try these!
What is your favorite hiking carrier? I love the versatility of a Baby Bjorn or an Ergo, but I would love to hear your input about the Piggyback Rider or your favorite shoulder carrier. In fact, maybe I need to go on the hunt to review my thoughts on them!
See my reviews of toddler carriers here. I also have a 20% discount for Minimeis if you want it!